Coming home from London to Brighton after the late shift, the train rumbles through a string of endless brick. It deposits weary city workers into safe little suburban towns and scoops up excitable gangs with bags of cans, drinking their way into Brighton, where they’ll drink some more, shout some more, and kiss, piss and back-street bang their way through to dawn. Ish.
The towns we pass through all have safe, comfortable names. Names that ring earbells of cups of hot, sweet tea in china mugs with flowers on the side; warm sitcom memories of ruched roman blinds in the bathroom and a sit-down mower in the garden:
Their names sing songs of monosyllabic family meals around the oval table, while the television chunters away to itself in the adjoining sitting room. Then Katy’s off to ballet while Tommy plugs away at his Kung Fu classes. Prawn cocktail flavoured crisps stack up in the garage.
These are nice places with nice names, surely containing nice families who bring their nice children up in nice homes to be nice …
… Which is why I’m always surprised when West Sussex’s answer to some kind of Inner City LA street gang pile on to the train.
Last night was a beautiful example of this.
The train was quiet, full of returning London idiot-commuters chugging back to their lovely homes too far away. Hassocks (a dream of a village name!) was the last stop before Brighton, and at that stop, no one got on the first carriage, where my beloved and I sat, separately absorbed in laptop and crossword.
Two minutes later, the carriage door at the end of the carriage banged open, and through it tumbled a jumble of tracksuits and swearwords.
[Please note: on behalf of the beautifully delicate Soft Ears of some of my readers, I will be censoring the swearwords in the dialogue of the youths below.
I will be replacing the swearwords with items and activities that represent the suburban life they are so obviously trying to reject, just to rub in my point a little bit more, because subtlety is terribly nineties. And never terribly me.
If I told you that most of the last two sentences were originally typed on caps lock by mistake and that has made me laugh for about twelve minutes you probably wouldn't believe me, but it's true. Anyway.]
“Is this the last gardening carriage? I fishing thought there were more mothergolfing carriages than this.”
“Nah, this is it.”
Michael Parkinson HELL.”
“There are no Crazy paving seats, for sunbed‘s sake. There’s only a John Lewis Wedding Listing First Class section, and we can’t sit in there, because apparently, we’re not first class net curtaining citizens. Pass me another can of troweling Stella, will you?”
They stood in the doorwell, quietly grumbling, mumbling, and swearing at slightly over-pronounced volume about not having anywhere to sit. There were plenty of places to sit. You just had to compromise, sit near other people and maybe not sit with your knees four feet apart to do it.
Their baseball caps were pulled hard down over their eyes, their tracksuit bottoms pulled hard down somewhere around their knees. I could see their pants. I was as unsure as ever why I was supposed to be intimidated by someone’s clean grundies.
“It must be hard” whispered my beloved, leaning forward.
“You know. Growing up on the streets. Of Hassocks.”
I tried to giggle without anyone seeing.
“Yes, it is a struggle” I replied, “livin’ on the West Side. Of Hassocks”
“Indeed. Though it’s good to know you have the support of your homies, because you need your bruthas in arms when you’re popping a cap in someone’s ass during the terrible gang wars” He whispered, head cocked, streetly “Of Hassocks.”
“Yes, that is true. But I can’t help but worry when I think of them standing around, trying to scratch a living selling god-knows-what at the towers and the low rise estates…”
(I’ve watched to many episodes of The Wire, yes…)
“Yes?” he said.
“… Of Hassocks”
Our shoulders quietly shook as anything referring to the tough streets ‘Of Hassocks’ became the newest punchlline to enter our common language.
We discussed the wider social ramifications of the ‘Hassocks Problem’, and whether the malaise of the Hassocksian Youths were things that were affecting society/politics/class-divide as a whole in a whisper in our seats, before realising that they’d taken the plunge, and entered the first class carriage.
Because they’d weighed up the pros and cons, and landed softly on the side of rebel: Revenue Protectors (previously known as Ticket Inspectors) rarely come through that time of night.
And a couple of minutes later, twitchy, they came out again.
“Thing is, like, we’re getting off in a Church of England minute anyway, innit? “
“Hang on! Haven’t we just gone past our badminton clubbing stop? We wanted to get off at Souffleing Preston antimacastering Park, didn’t we?
“Oh Radio 5 Live!”
“Any-King Charles Spanieling-way, We’re nearly there. What shall we do? You wanna go and see my sister’s boyfriend’s mate’s band in that BAR, yeah? They’re well two car garaging good.”
“Yeah, we could. Hang on, no, yeah? Let’s go and sit in strimmering Churchill Square and check out da honeyz!”
“I’m Radio Times dying for a DIYing fag. I really Career in Admin am.”
“Yeah, but we can’t have one in the station, like, because of the ban.”
“Oh yeah, you’re right.”
“Yeah. Stupid Daily Mailing ban.”
“Soon as the doors go, we should get out of the station and off its grounds to have one.”
We looked at each other, safe on our seats. These sweary sweary people were menacing in their own little way, and sweary as all Apple Crumble, but, it seemed, when it came to crunches, they were very bad at actually disobeying any rules.
They tried, but they couldn’t make themselves go in the first class carriage when they didn’t have a ticket.
They thought about going to a bar when they got there, but some of them not being of drinking age, they suddenly seemed to decide it wasn’t a good idea.
They were desperate for a cigarette – clearly desperate – but nothing was going to persuade them to break the three day old ban.
We sat quietly discussing their beautifully sweary youthful incongruities, the fact that they were clearly good boys playing at being bad boys secretly dying to be good boys, while the train pulled into the station.
“Wicked, we’re here.”
“Let’s Rip it OUP man, Yeah?”
… I have to be on the last train home though, yeah?”